Visiting naturalist Brett Westwood, and walking with him round the block, in Stourbridge, West Midlands
I had met Brett once before – when he had very kindly travelled up to Morville in Shropshire to listen to poetry and see some art in Morville Church, hosted by Katherine Swift, author of The Morville Hours: at the launch of Fair Acre Press’ first book Shropshire Butterflies – a poetic and artistic guide to the butterflies of Shropshire.
Brett Westwood’s greatest passion is for insects and invertebrates, but also, amongst many things, he has kept notes about the same local patch in North Worcestershire for nearly 40 years – ever since he began a wildlife diary at the age of 15. (The Diaries of Brett Westwood can still be heard via the BBC iPlayer) and is deeply involved with the Wyre Forest and its Study Group, which has revealed new species and encouraging success stories.
Recently, he has written and presented for Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day and co-written a book of the same name, with Stephen Moss. They have also collaborated on another fascinating book called Natural Histories, also based on a Radio 4 series – which describes 25 extraordinary species that have changed our world; and Wonderland that was published in 2017 to great acclaim.
He is a radio broadcaster, and now red-button presenter and consultant for both Springwatch and Autumnwatch.
He took us for a walk around the block where he lives. We headed for a pub garden.
As others sit talking, we gather round a huge sweet-smelling ivy bush – and on first glance it looks like there are a lot of wasps making the most of the sunshine but, as I get my eye in, he points out hoverflies, honey bees, and the reason why we had gone there – Colletes hederae – better known as the Ivy Bee ! This species was first recorded in Britain in 2001. And 2 days before was the first time it had ever been recorded in Stourbridge !
Ivy Bees are spreading north and west , so if you see one , do send in your recordings to the national survey at www.bwars.com
He then takes us to another patch of ivy, hanging from a brick wall at the entrance of the pub’s car park. He says we are getting funny looks from passers-by, but by now I am engrossed in finding a tiny green spider that’s not called enigma – but Nigma. It is absolutely tiny –at about 1.5 mm it is just larger than a pin head, and about the size of a flea – and it sits beneath its web on the upper surface of its chosen leaf. It seems to like the sun. This species which was once very local in south-east England, seems to be increasing its range and Brett discovered it for the first time in Stourbridge just days ago. This time we found four little cuties on four different leaves (one I found all by myself – hooray!)
We passed a lot of garden orb spiders too… What beauties ! No wonder artist Giancarlo Facchinetti chose this species for our Poetry E-Book cover ! And their webs are stunning too. I don’t know if the owners of the gardens I was peering into thought I was “casing the joint”, for I was in a world of the small – watching as the spiders were getting on with their lives amongst the pedestrians and traffic.
Brett Westwood gives you an inkling of the secret and extraordinary lives of spiders on a podcast, and in a piece of writing that you can find on https://fairacrepress.co.uk/projects/maligned-species-project/
-Brett talks about what they eat, what eats them, their courtship and mating, about the story behind the scare-mongering headlines, and more.